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May 24th, 2014
06:00 PM ET

Atheists in the Bible Belt: A survival guide

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

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Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) – Back home, they erase their Internet histories, look over their shoulders before cracking jokes and nod politely when co-workers talk about church.

But in a hotel ballroom here on a recent weekend, more than 220 atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers let it all hang out.

The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” and it was part celebration of skepticism and part strategy session about surviving in the country’s most religious region.

They sang songs about the futility of faith, shared stories about “coming out” as nonbelievers and bought books about the Bible – critical ones, of course.

“Isn’t it great to be in a room where you can say whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of anyone criticizing you for being unorthodox?” asked Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as he opened the two-day convention.

The Wisconsin-based foundation co-sponsored the event with the Triangle Freethought Society, which draws its members from this state’s tech-heavy Research Triangle.

The nonbelievers came from as far afield as Ireland and France, but most described themselves as refugees from the heart of the South - atheist anomalies amid fiercely devout friends, family and neighbors.

We wanted to know what it’s like to be a nonbeliever in the Bible Belt, so over the course of the weekend we asked some of the folks here to share their secrets.

They had a lot to say, and some of their advice overlapped, but we came away with eight top tips. Some said they wished they’d had something like this list when they began their foray into religious infidelity.

So, without further ado, here’s a “survival guide” to being an atheist in the Bible Belt:

You may be lonely, but you aren’t alone

Not so long ago, every other letter sent to the Freedom From Religion Foundation would begin something like, “I’m the only atheist in Nebraska … “

It’s still lonely being an atheist in rural America, says Annie Laurie Gaylor, the foundation’s co-president, but there are plenty of skeptics and nonbelievers in God’s Country – if you know how to find them.

Even the most religious states like Mississippi and Alabama have secular meetup groups, although many keep quiet and require long drives to attend.

Gaylor’s favorite story about the secretive lives of Bible Belt atheists involves two neighbors in Georgia whose jaws dropped when they saw each other at an atheist gathering. Each had assumed that the other was a good, God-fearing Baptist.

“They were afraid to speak out," she says, "because they didn’t want to be stigmatized.”

Gaylor recommends looking online for atheist support groups in your area; and be sure to search for related terms as well: agnostic, freethought, skeptic and nonbeliever.

It’s no fun debating fundamentalists

Bart Ehrman doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who backs down from a fight.

The University of North Carolina scholar often seeks them out, regularly debating the Bible and early Christianity with evangelicals and other experts.

But Ehrman told the atheists gathered in Raleigh not to bother arguing with fundamentalists.

“You can’t convince a fundamentalist that he or she is wrong,” he says.

Their theology is a closed system, according to Ehrman, and their social bonds with fellow fundamentalists are too tightly knit to admit any wiggle room.

“You can point to any contradiction in the Bible and it just doesn’t matter. They will either find some way to reconcile it or say that even if they don’t understand it, God does.”

Technically, the term fundamentalist refers to a movement of 20th-century Protestants who rejected modernity and clung to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

But Ehrman has a different definition: “Someone who is no fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.”

People will think you worship Satan

Many Americans don’t actually know any professed atheists, according to surveys - which means they often seem to assume the worst about them.

Fewer than half of Americans say they’d vote for an atheist politician; a similar number say they wouldn’t want their children to marry a nonbeliever.

A recent study also showed that businesses in the South are more likely to discriminate against atheist job candidates.

“I don’t know what they think we are, Satanists or baby eaters or who knows what,” activist Todd Stiefel told the atheists gathered in Raleigh, “but it’s kind of scary."

A recent survey conducted for Stiefel's new “Openly Secular” campaign found that 20% of Americans can’t even define atheism. Far more don’t know what “humanist,” “freethinker” or “agnostic” means.

Behold, the six types of atheists

Based on “It Gets Better” and other gay rights campaigns, “Openly Secular” hopes to counter that ignorance by asking atheists to share stories online about their lives and beliefs.

“What we’re really trying to do is humanize us,” Stiefel says. “Frankly, most of the hate and distrust comes from misunderstanding about who we are.”

You don’t have to convince your friends, family and neighbors to accept all of your views, the atheist activist says. You just have to get them to accept you.

Sometimes it’s better to stay in the closet

After secular conferences like the one here Raleigh, many nonbelievers get so jazzed that they rush home and blurt out … "Guess, what? I’m an ATHEIST!!!"

That can be a really bad idea, says Sarah Morehead, executive director of Recovering From Religion.

It may help the atheist movement as a whole to share your lack of faith with friends and family. But it’s not always the best - or the safest - move for you, she says.

Recovering From Religion’s online support groups are filled with stories about people who lost their jobs, their kids or their spouses after coming out as atheist, Morehead says.

“It’s heartbreaking. People don’t realize how big a difference expressing their nonbelief can make.”

Recovering From Religion recommends having a plan in place before coming out as atheist.

“If you decide you’re a nonbeliever,” Morehead says, “you’re still going to be a nonbeliever in a year."

The group’s own 10.5-step plan includes creating a support network, declining to get into debates and preparing yourself for a “religious breakup” with friends and family. (The half-step assures budding nonbelievers they don’t have to be experts on atheism and points them toward educational resources.)

Don’t be the ‘office atheist’

Candace Gorham says her close family is accepting of her atheism - but she’s not completely “out” at work yet, and doesn’t know if she wants to be.

Gorham, who was raised in the black church, says religion is deeply embedded in the lives of many Southern African-Americans, and the borders between private and public spirituality often blur.

“I work for a black-owned company, and most of my supervisors are black females, and it’s just sort of OK for everybody to talk about God, or offer to pray for you,” says Gorham.

The 33-year-old is author of a new book called “The Ebony Exodus Project,” about black women leaving the church, which has pushed Gorham herself to become more public about being an atheist.

Recently, a co-worker told Gorham she had seen her talking about being an atheist on Roland Martin’s television show.

“I was like, Oh my God, shhh don’t tell anybody!”

A mental-health counselor who works with children, Gorham worries that people will stop referring clients to her once they find out she’s a nonbeliever.

According to a survey Stiefel presented in Raleigh, more than 50% of Americans believe atheist teachers and day-care employees - people who, like Gorham, work with children - are likely to face discrimination at work.

She knows it's only a matter of time until more of her office mates find out.

“It’s getting to a place where I don’t have a choice. I’m just going to have to be comfortable with it - but it does concern me.”

The Internet is your frenemy

A co-worker isn’t the only person who saw Gorham talking about atheism on television.

Her aunt read about the Roland Martin interview online, which led Gorham’s mother to call and ask if she is really an atheist.

The conversation went well, Gorham says, and her mother understands and respects her beliefs.

But the unexpected disclosure shows why many atheists cover their Internet tracks, even as they increasingly look for like-minded communities online.

Gorham says she used to delete her browsing history on her laptop after watching atheist debates and lectures online lest her husband or other family members find out her faith was wavering.

“I was still early in my deconversion and I wasn’t sure how he would perceive it,” says the Greensboro, North Carolina, native.

Others here for the conference said they keep two separate Facebook pages, one for friends and family and one for their secular communities.

“Facebook is my happy place,” says one middle-aged woman who made a nearly seven-hour drive to Raleigh from Crossville, Tennessee.

The woman, who didn't want to be identified, teaches at public schools. She says most of her neighbors and co-workers are Christians.

“Crossville is a small Bible Belt community with churches on every corner,” she said, “and everything shuts down on Sunday except for Wal-Mart and the hospital.”

Most co-workers assume she’s Christian, but she joins as many atheist groups online as she can and keeps an anonymous Facebook page called “Within Reason.”

One recent post asks people to click “like” if they’ve ever been unfriended because of an atheism-themed status update.

Some people take Bible-thumping literally

Adults may face more real-life repercussions for coming out as atheist in the Bible Belt, but that doesn’t mean kids have an easy ride.

Kalei Wilson, 15, says she lost friends after trying to start a secular student club at Pisgah High School in Canton, North Carolina; and someone used a Bible to destroy her science project, leaving the holy book on her smashed model of the universe.

The blue-haired, nose-pierced freshman says she’s not the only atheist at her high school, but most of them are closeted.

“I didn’t want to come out at first,” Wilson says, “but in order to start the club I had to.”

In exchange for her openness, Wilson says, some students mutter "Jesus loves you” as she walks down the hall, and she regularly receives text messages with the greeting, “Hey, Satan.”

“I’ve lost friends because of it,” the teenager says of her atheism, “but they’re not real friends if that’s what they do.”

Have a sense of humor

For all the heartbreaking stories, if was there was a soundtrack to the conference in Raleigh, it would include a lot of laughter.

It seemed as if the atheists and freethinkers here had been storing their sharpest religion jokes for weeks, preparing for the day when they would find an appreciative audience at last.

“I’ve been living in the South for 13 years,” says Pat Meller, who came to Raleigh from nearby Greensboro, “and I’ve had to watch my tongue for just as long.”

So for two days, Meller and her kindred spirits cut loose.

They quipped about the folly of prayer, bought bumper-stickers calling the Bible a “Grim Fairy Tale,” and wore T-shirts proclaiming their belief in life before death.

Harry Shaughnessy, president of the Triangle Freethought Society, played the cut-up emcee for much of the weekend.

“For every activist-oriented event we have, we want to have three to five things that are just fun,” says Shaughnessy, whose group holds regular “Heathen Happy Hours” and meets for barbecues in each other’s homes.

At one point, the youthful 44-year-old donned a crown and a form-fitting, skin-colored costume to bestow Freedom From Religion’s “Emperor Has No Clothes” award on Steifel for his activism.

Perhaps appropriately for an atheist event, Shaughnessy’s get-up left little to the imagination.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Black issues • Church and state • Culture wars • Discrimination • Internet • Lost faith • Nones • North Carolina • Prejudice • Religious liberty

soundoff (4,807 Responses)
  1. Strand

    There are very few people who no my belief any I live in the most populated State in the Union. To be honest, even I grew up telling myself that Atheism is akin to Satanism. I didn't think of Atheism as people who had just not learned about God yet, I thought of them as people who chose to hate God. Until I became Agnostic. For all purposes you would call me Atheist because I don't believe in God any more than I believe in the tooth fairy. It is just that I can not prove its existence so I can't commit to a label. Besides I never liked labels anyway. It has been a long road, but I think the more we learn about the origins of our Universe, the less valid a God explanation has in that Universe. We are but specs in this vast Galaxy. A star dies every single second I have typed this. Other entire Galaxies are being destroyed, imagine all of the life with it. Since our planet has been in existence, 99.9 percent of all life has become extinct, including branches of our own evolutionary tree, and almost our own branch a couple times throughout evolution. So I ask, do you really believe this was all designed?

    May 25, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
    • Strand

      *know not no

      May 25, 2014 at 3:17 pm |
    • bhoffinger

      The first language in the world was: 'Loshon HaKodesh' which is a 'head first' language - it places the noun before the adjective. English and Chinese are 'head last' So, these two languages are inferior to 'Loshon HaKodesh' because the noun is more important than the adjective. This disproves 'Darwinian Evolution' in 'One fell swoop!' Thank you. Boruch N. Hoffinger

      May 25, 2014 at 3:31 pm |
      • igaftr

        OK....explain again how one language is "better" than another, and how exactly does this refute evolution ( and it isn't darwinian evolution...there is just evolution).

        Perhaps you could explain why "gods word" was written in a language that virtually no one knows, except for those who wrote it in the first place? You do realize that whatever language things are written in, that men are the ones doing the writing, and that no god has EVER been shown to exist, nor has one been shown to have anything to do with the propoganda that is the bible.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm |
  2. freddieips

    Please join my Facebook fan club for Kalei, the young beauty with the blue hair from North Carolina. She's from North Carolina, and is facing tough times for coming out ATHEIST!

    http://www.facebook.com/secular.with.kalei

    May 25, 2014 at 3:02 pm |
    • brefazio

      me too...https://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Witch-In-Time

      May 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm |
  3. bhoffinger

    Most people study the 'Old Testament' in languages other than 'Loshon HaKodesh' so they don't understand it. 'Loshon HaKodesh' (Hebrew) is the first and most brilliant language in the world. 'Loshon HaKodesh' is the Creation Language. Thank you Also discover 'The 7 Noahide Laws.' The (so-called) 'Old Testament' (The Torah) there are big and small letters, letters added and missing. One misses these important teachings in other languages 'Loshon HaKodesh' has four levels of meaning. Thank you. Boruch N. Hoffinger

    May 25, 2014 at 3:02 pm |
    • otoh2

      "Members of the earth's earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.

      According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.

      "I do not understand," reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. "A booming voice is saying, 'Let there be light,' but there is already light. It is saying, 'Let the earth bring forth grass,' but I am already standing on grass."

      "Everything is here already," the pictograph continues. "We do not need more stars."

      Historians believe that, immediately following the biblical event, Sumerian witnesses returned to the city of Eridu, a bustling metropolis built 1,500 years before God called for the appearance of dry land, to discuss the new development. According to records, Sumerian farmers, priests, and civic administrators were not only befuddled, but also took issue with the face of God moving across the water, saying that He scared away those who were traveling to Mesopotamia to participate in their vast and intricate trade system.

      Moreover, the Sumerians were taken aback by the creation of the same animals and herb-yielding seeds that they had been domesticating and cultivating for hundreds of generations.

      "The Sumerian people must have found God's making of heaven and earth in the middle of their well-established society to be more of an annoyance than anything else," said Paul Helund, ancient history professor at Cornell University. "If what the pictographs indicate are true, His loud voice interrupted their ancient prayer rituals for an entire week."

      According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God's most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings.

      "These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant," one Sumerian philosopher wrote. "They must be the creation of a complete idiot." "
      - The Onion

      May 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm |
      • bhoffinger

        Patience...try reading this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sefer_Yetzirah
        You will see much of 'science' isn't science. There are prejudiced and 'politically correct' scientists.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm |
  4. josephcrompton

    You know people have no idea what we poor Atheists go through. At my work, I have been victimized time and time again, especially after sneezing. I ended up joining a support group at work "Freedom From Bless Yous" and it has really helped. Now things are getting better; I receive the ever so important "Darwin bless you!", as well as "Buddha bless you!" from my brothers and sisters, and the support has been instrumental in my healing. Even though I had a traumatic experience when a cruel person said "Jesus bless you", I am recovering real well, thank you for asking. Others have no idea what it means to have true spiritual love stalking you. It's horrifying, it's a violation of my selfishness, and it really has to be stopped! Keep up the fight my brother and sister victims. No one should have to bear the pain of having the true love of their creator freely offered to them.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:55 pm |
    • Strand

      While I may not believe in God, it doesn't bother me if someone says God Bless you. I think it is a great thought that someone is thinking something positive about you at that moment no matter what they say.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
      • josephcrompton

        But they say "God" or "Jesus" and I suffer because of it. It's just so horrible and I need support groups to help me make it through life.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm |
        • Strand

          Ok I get it, you are a troll. Move along.

          May 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm |
        • meatheist

          Pathetic attempt at sarcasm.

          May 25, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
      • ldsnakes

        Well there are xians that do it just to spite people that are different from them. It does happen I have experienced from co-workers who found out the I was agnostic.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm |
      • dadadadiox

        I'm even okay with 'In God We Trust' on my money. I spends just fine with me. I'm cool with the creche on the city hall lawn or the ten commandments at the courthouse. These public displays do not affect my non-belief. Let the faithful have their rituals and symbols. I can ignore them.

        May 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm |
        • igaftr

          You are ok with a lie being our national motto? Why would you be ok with that?

          May 25, 2014 at 3:32 pm |
        • bhoffinger

          Jesus was not born in a manger wand thought he was 'Messiah' but failed.Read this book. It will put to rest all those who believe in Jesus as 'Messiah' or 'Son of G-d' This book is for sincere truth seekers.
          http://www.amazon.com/Real-Messiah-Jewish-Response-Missionaries/dp/1879016117

          May 25, 2014 at 3:34 pm |
    • igaftr

      poor attempt at sarcasm, and clearly shows you have no empathy to those who do not believe as you do.

      When the president of the nation says somethng like this " I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God...GHW Bush.

      When even your president says something as ridiculous as that, when there are laws restricting atheists, being flippant about the way atheists are ACTUALLY treated is so very christian of you.

      I'm sure you would have said simialr things about balck people in the 50's and sixties, and would also joke about women getting the right to vote...right? But no, it's OK to joke about others civil rights...as long as they don't take away yours...right?

      May 25, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
    • Akira

      I suspect your post is tongue in cheek.
      Satire is always fun, although minimizing someone's actual painful experience isn't.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm |
    • ptsloan

      The thing about religious people is that they use their religion as an excuse to justify their own bigotry.
      Bigotry towards non-believers, bigotry towards people of other faiths, gays, and so on.
      The thing none of them will admit to is that they are all in their own way Atheist also.

      You see, they don't have a problem condemning gay people because the Bible says that it is wrong in one way or another, yet the Bible also says, that they should be put to death, people who grow two different crops side by side, should be put to death, people who wear different cloth should be put to death, people who work on the Sabbath should be put to death.

      Is kind of a tradition to go to breakfast after mass on Sundays, when was the last time any of you stoned your waitress to death for working on the Sabbath?
      The Bible also tells you to give away all of your riches. Not just a donation here and there, it says to give it all away. Have any of you done that?

      When pressed on these issues, these "believers" will bring up all sorts of excuses why they wont take part in a stoning, or giving away all of their riches. But the true reason is that they don't want to believe the parts of the Bible that'll inconvenience them, or get them in trouble with the law. In those cases, mans laws, trumps their God's laws.

      And so I leave you with this.

      "I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
      ...Stephen F Roberts

      May 25, 2014 at 3:14 pm |
      • bhoffinger

        Sodomy is considered a grave sin in 'The Torah' No one is killed unless they know the law, and there is a witness. Most people do not understand the 'Old Testament' The real name is 'The Torah' The Sabbath is not for non-Jews but for Jews, because they were commanded to 'Keep the Sabbath' while most of the world rejected 'The Torah' at Mt. Sinai. Most people do not know how to keep the Sabbath. There are many laws. Check out: 'The 7 Noahide Laws' 'The Torah' was written in 'Loshon HaKdesh' which has four levels of meaning. The deepest is mathematical. Neither the New Testament, nor the 'Koran' were written in this holy language. Holy is 'kodesh' in 'Loshon HaKodeah' which implies separatness. Thanks Boruch Hoffinger

        May 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm |
    • thishela

      Give me a break! Fundamentalist Christians are much bigger whiners than atheists. What about the "War against Christmas" where fundamentalists get all in a tizzy because some poor store clerk wishes them "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" or their religion being suppressed because we don't have mandated prayers in schools or invocations at ball games.

      May 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
  5. itchymcscratchy

    Welcome to the South; A church on every corner, a gun in every home.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm |
    • awpblogprofile

      So true. Churches are everywhere, even on residential streets, as I have one right down the street from me. The funny thing is around where I live when giving someone instructions on how to get to your house, it is just a matter of telling them the church you live near too. It seems every church is etched into every ones mind. Very weird!
      And, yes each household where I live has 1+ gun(s). I own one to guard myself from those that have imaginary friends. You never know if their imaginary friend might tell them to do something...

      I often talk to the employees that work at the little convenient store near me. They have told me on many occasion's that all throughout the week people of the community will come in and buy cases upon cases of beer, as well as exhibit poor behavior. Come Sunday morning they will drive up to the store with wife and kids in the car, purchase a few soft drinks and bubble gum and then as soon as church services are over go back to the beer and ill behaviors.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:05 pm |
  6. toddsstone

    I am not an atheist. I'm more of an agnostic. Nonetheless, I pray, recognizing it may be nothing more than a useful meditation to myself – and even as such, I find it useful and productive.

    However, what I don't like about practicing atheist is their drive to convert others. I find that highly hypocritical. To me, there is no difference between a proselytizing atheist and proselytizing bible thumper. Live and and let live.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Agnostic only defines lack of knowledge not belief in a god or gods. You can be agnostic about many things but you can't be Atheist/Theist about anything other than a disbelief/belief in god(s).

      May 25, 2014 at 2:46 pm |
      • toddsstone

        Label me as you like. I believe that there is probably some high force or power. I'm not convinced it's knowable by man, or that that any of our religions lead represent "truth." On the other hand, I do believe many of the world's religions point toward the same thing, but unfortunately got weight down with requirements and prohibitions that are purely the work of man.

        May 25, 2014 at 2:52 pm |
        • TruthPrevails1

          So then you're a Theist...congrats.
          I'm not convinced it's knowable but until I see evidence to support the existence of a god or gods, there is no justification for believing.

          May 25, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
        • toddsstone

          Thruthprevails

          Why is it so important to you to label people?

          For myself, I have found ample evidence – both experiences in my life and simply looking at the world around me – to believe in the divine. I don't spend a lot of time trying to define it or understand it. As I said, I'm not convinced that "truth" is knowable by mere men.

          May 25, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
        • TruthPrevails1

          You labelled yourself, I was merely explaining that definitions matter and why that label could apply to anyone.

          May 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm |
      • gwf333

        You're quite the literal one. He could have said "Agnostic about God", but since this whole article and discussion is about belief or non-belief in God, it's quite obvious to everyone – except you apparently – that "agnostic" here referred to their uncertainty about God. All languages are constructed more than on individual words, there's also the whole context. I hope this has been enlightening to you.

        May 25, 2014 at 2:59 pm |
        • TruthPrevails1

          No it isn't obvious. And definitions matter, they are what define words.

          May 25, 2014 at 3:05 pm |
    • wholisa

      Some, not all atheists, do that. I also oppose it and I don't do it.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm |
      • toddsstone

        Agreed. Not all atheists are militant in their approach.

        May 25, 2014 at 2:55 pm |
    • Strand

      There is actually a huge difference. I can be certain that I don't believe in the Easter Bunny, but that doesn't make anti-bunny. But if people started teaching you that the Bunny created you and made rules for you, would you not see it an evolutionary, if not human/sanity argument, to intercede?

      May 25, 2014 at 3:00 pm |
    • thishela

      Anybody who pushes their beliefs on others is a jerk. It doesn't matter whether they are atheist, fundamentalist Christian, muslim, or Pagan. Nonetheless, for every pushy atheist I bet I could find about a gazillion fundamentalist Christians.

      May 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm |
      • hotairace

        Then the American and Canadian governments are jerks as they both force the notion, alleged but never proven, of "God" upon their citizens.

        May 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm |
  7. bankerdanny

    Survival? I'm sorry but this is pathetic.

    I have friends that are religious, I am not. It's not a problem for me. They post 'share this if you love Jesus' type things on Facebook and I just don't share. They invite me to their children's confirmation, and I go. They want to say a prayer before a meal, I let them and I just sit quietly (and respectfully) and let them.

    I don't get why this is such a big deal. Some people are pushy about their religion but it's easy to deflect them or politely ignore them.

    How is attending a meeting to talk with other atheists about being an atheist functionally different from attending a church service?

    May 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm |
    • gwf333

      You're right, I don't know what the big deal is either. Or perhaps the big deal is their own guilt rather than their self-confidence with what they do or don't believe. I live in a place too where 90% of people around me are Muslim. I'm not Muslim. It's not a big deal for me.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm |
    • Strand

      I think the greatest thing about churches is getting support from community in a like-minded atmosphere. This is important for humans who are social. But then it comes down to what you are congregating about. It is great to have community, but not to support something that does not exist. In my opinion.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:03 pm |
    • thrishmal

      Seriously. Then again, people like us probably don't feel the need to throw our faith, or lack of it, in peoples faces. I live in rural North Carolina and have no issues at all with being an "atheist". If someone wants to talk religion, I either excuse myself or keep the conversation within the bound of their religious beliefs. People can share a lot of similar views, even with conflicting religious beliefs.

      This article makes me laugh. If someone is having so much trouble "surviving" in the bible belt as an atheist, then they may need to take a really good look at their own life and see that the problem might stem from them.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:07 pm |
  8. thevinster17

    I think they are being a bit over dramatic. The only people that don't know that I am an atheist are my parents and family (although they probably suspect), and only because I see no need to tell them.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm |
    • dadadadiox

      So you're still in the closet to your closest relatives but you're honest with those are not so close to you. That's not really very brave or open, is it?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:48 pm |
  9. chosenbygrace

    So, after an atheist goes on a killing spree to become like God or a god as their front page story, CNN, right next to that story boldy advertises atheism, and in a Christian community. You twisted evil psychopath sickos. – eternian.wordpress.c om

    May 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm |
    • igaftr

      I would strongly suggest some non-religious psychological counseling.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm |
    • marine5484

      What exactly are you referencing?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:23 pm |
      • TruthPrevails1

        I believe this is the article the OP is referring to, although nowhere in it does it indicate the kids beliefs.
        http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/25/justice/santa-barbara-shooter-parents/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

        May 25, 2014 at 2:28 pm |
    • TruthPrevails1

      What? Where do you get the idea that kid was an Atheist?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:25 pm |
    • Akira

      Please show us where it states in that article that the shooter was an atheist.
      Lying is breaking the Lord's 9th Commandment.
      You twisted evil psychopath sicko.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      "So, after an atheist goes on a killing spree to become like God......"

      So, you concede that god is a twisted fvck who goes on random killing sprees?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:52 pm |
    • Strand

      Well if they do it claiming "they" are God. Wouldn't that be a religion in itself?

      May 25, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
  10. bpuharic

    Given the fact Christians on the SCOTUS just told us that our govt can force us to listen to Christian prayers, we atheists have alot of work to do. Christianity is incompatible with freedom, as the "Gary" decision shows.

    May 25, 2014 at 2:08 pm |
    • arnodyck

      The problem is that many people don't believe in the concept of freedom of religion. Militants on both sides want to force everyone else to believe their way. It's wrong. "let everyone be convinced in their own mind" . I don't want to convince anyone to be a follower of Christ with my powers of persuasion. I want people to see something of Jesus from how I live.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
  11. freemnspirit

    I am an atheist and I was born and raised in Lawton, Oklahoma. I do NOT look over my shoulder or any of the other nonsense that is being reported in this story. We have an atheist organization at the local college, and a large number of atheist in the local community. I am not sure why the people in your story claim to feel so afraid, but as someone who has been openly atheist for a number of years, I think it is possible your reporters found some drama queens. I, and my fellow atheist, live openly and normally, functioning like regular people. The Christian extremists do not like us, but hey, most people do not like them either because they are EXTREMIST. Want a real story? You should check out the number of pagans in Oklahoma– if the atheists blow your mind, you should see those numbers. The joke with locals is that you can't walk to a street corner with out bumping into a pagan– and it is true. We are proud of our religious diversity. CNN may convince the rest of America that atheist in Oklahoma are an anomaly, but nothing, NOTHING, is farther from the truth. Alternative religions are the norm in Oklahoma, not the exception.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm |
    • kenzo400

      I think they are just banking in on the fact that many people have misconceptions about these parts of US, thinking that there is naturally a lot more prejudice and ignorance. If they wrote about the experiences of atheists in NY, i'm sure they could have easily found a handful of people talking about the exact same stuff. But it just wouldn't have the same appeal and more people would be able to see through it.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:59 pm |
    • igaftr

      Pagan is a word the christians hijacked, and it is a derogatory word.
      It simply means one who is not jewish, christian or muslim...so most of the world, including atheists. You probably mean wiccans or some other offshoot, but pagan is anyone who does not believe in the abrahamic god.

      Originally the word meant basically citizen.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm |
    • MidwestKen

      I'd imagine that Fort Sill right next door as well as the local Native American population brings quite a diverse group to your town.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:14 pm |
    • dokie87

      Being from Oklahoma myself I do not appreciate you taking your experience and blanketing it over all of the atheists in Oklahoman. Growing up in very rural Oklahoma, less than 1500 people in my whole town, I was pressured to believe in evangelical baptist practices. In our small town we have 16 churches, 14 of which are Southern Baptist. The church I attended, the First Baptist church in the town, was the largest and hosted over 1000 attendees each week. I went because there was little option not to. If you did not attend church you were not part of the community. I struggled immensely with reconciling my non-beliefs with the expectation that I be an advocate for Christ. Once I attended college, a university in Oklahoma, I started to explore my non-beliefs further. I still was isolated with little social or formal support. I eventually moved out of state and only at that point, being out of Oklahoma, did I feel comfortable in coming out with my non-beliefs. This admission resulted in my losing family, friends, and community. Once I returned to Oklahoma my own sister, who does not attend church regularly but had a problem with my non-belief, told me that she did not feel comfortable naming me as the person in her will to watch her children if she died. So I would ask you not to take your experiences and throw them across all of your fellow Oklahomans. I am glad you had a different experience but your experience does not mean it is all of ours. I live in a religiously hostile part of Oklahoma, where being a non-believer is far worse than anything else you could be.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:28 pm |
      • fuzzywuzzywuzntfuzzywuzhe

        I can relate. Contrary to many of the comments, it depends greatly on what part of the country you live in as an atheist. My experience was in the Midwest, which turns out to be an extension of the bible belt, and this article and your experience very accurately describe my own experiences.

        May 25, 2014 at 2:48 pm |
      • rhea3

        I can't help wondering why a small town needs 14 Southern Baptist churches. Okay, #2 was founded because some people couldn't stand the ones in charge of #1, and maybe #3 ditto for #2, but... fourteen...?

        May 25, 2014 at 4:08 pm |
    • mississippiboyjohn

      What may be true in Lawton is definitely not true in Jackson, MS. I dare not even openly admit to being a Democrat here, much less to being atheist. I'd lose my entire family if they knew what I thought. In fact, a judge during a divorce proceeding could declare me an unfit parent for not teaching my child about Jesus, thus restricting my ability to spend time with him. I may not lose my job, but I'd definitely lose customers. The first question anybody you meet asks you here is where you go to church. If you say you don't go at all, they remember, and it is most definitely held against you.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
  12. wptalker

    Religion is delusion based on ancient myth, folklore and fairytales. It's all fake, man made, warped and damaging to us and nature. Atheism is myth understood.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm |
    • kudlak

      Maybe it's more like all that we now consider ancient myth, folklore and fairytale was once religious belief. So why should we assume that today's religions are any different?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm |
  13. patriottony

    When was the last case anybody can site where CHRISTIANS went into court to ban, abolish, restrain, or neuter Atheists? NAME ONE? Every single day you can read CNN (NOT FOX),,and see cases where Atheists or their minions in court trying to ban,,, money,,books, blessing over a meal, even graduations where words are being censored under court orders. The war is in no way shape or form on ATHEISTS,,rather the ACLU and alllll their minions march into court, incensed at the very word GOD..

    May 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm |
    • Doris

      You need to check the SCOTUS history of the challenges to the 1st Amendment principles. Not just the famous cases – all of them. The wall of separation has always been under attack.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:57 pm |
    • wptalker

      the sooner we get past these ancient myths and live by known science the better.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:58 pm |
    • lordheresy

      What an ignorant post! Atheists and agnostics aren't doing what you poorly expressed in your post. Atheists and agnostic simply want a government, meant to be separate from religion, to be separate from religion. Atheists and agnostics fight to have religious acts and teachings removed from the PUBLIC education system because they don't want a system, for which they contribute tax dollars, that attempts to brain wash their children to "believe" in a God. Atheists and agnostics want an education system that teaches rational thought process and allows children to make their own decisions. Christians want to PUSH their beliefs on everyone because they think their way of thinking is the ONLY WAY.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:06 pm |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Is it Atheists losing their minds about abortion? Is it Atheists losing their minds about evolution being taught in schools? Is it Atheists losing the minds about LGBT getting married?
      Not usually should be the answer but yet we see Christians out there trying to have those things stopped. Don't call yourself a patriot if you are not going to respect the Constitution-that's an insult to the country.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:06 pm |
    • gamomofthree

      Minions? I get minions? No one told me, where are mine? I want my minions!!!

      May 25, 2014 at 2:19 pm |
    • yannleei

      Do you really have no idea why that's ridiculous? Of course you don't see court cases like that, because atheists aren't the ones in power. You don't see atheists throwing up atheist 10 commandments in courtrooms to be challenged by religious people. You don't see atheist prayers at the opening of city council meetings, or atheist pledges in school. Not to mention, as the minority, atheists don't simply enact their atheist practices and wait for religious people to take objection. Your comment is about as ignorant as asking when the last time a white male went to court to get reparations for slavery from african americans. Of course it only goes one way, because only one side has been dominating the other.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:23 pm |
  14. trioofsixes

    This article is ridiculous. Too many of my fellow atheist/agnostic people have this victim complex. You just act like the whole world is out to get you so you can soapbox to every one and show off how edgy, cool, and mysterious your lack of belief is, and it's pathetic behavior, befitting only the most socially inept teenaged losers. Grow up and get a life.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm |
    • whippstippler7

      Wow! Who peed in your corn flakes today? Grumpy much?

      Do you understand that atheists are not some huge ho-mogenous group? Young, old, all colours of the rainbow, educated, uneducated, gay, straight, in-between

      We just don't believe in a god or gods – that's the only characteristic we share.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:02 pm |
    • Doris

      I think for many atheists and agnostics, it's not just about being a victim or not. Remember, many fundamentalists wage as much war with each other as much as against atheists and agnostics. Read Rainer's posts on the Pope article for instance. Or take for instance the evangelical team headed by Scott Lively who traveled from the U.S. to Africa to incite the killing and jailing of certain people there – many of whom were also Christians. Being caught in the cross-fire is tiresome, but more importantly, I think atheists and agnostics often lend a voice to the absurd activities of some theists.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:07 pm |
    • dandintac

      Actually, the ones I hear whining about being the victim the most are Christians. Didn't you hear? There's a "War on Christmas" and one on Christianity too! We have a friend (we avoid the topics of religion and politics)–who sends us the chain mails the right wing Christians are circulating. To hear it, there are FEMA concentrations camps being set up for Christians. Christianity is "under attack". The claims go on and on and on ad-nauseum. Oftentimes, a simple fact-check will prove the claims to be either twisted, or made up altogether.

      There's a whole crop of websites actually devoted to alleged persecution of Christians in the US, and even two movies. Usually the whining comes when they are prohibited from discriminating against gays, or stopped from trying to force prayer on to captive audiences, and so on.

      So–don't go vetching about atheists "whining"–you are not exactly playing with a strong hand. The real whiners in our society are the ones who enjoy an overwhelming majority, and total political power limited solely by the First Amendment, which a majority of SCOTUS seems keen on eroding.

      May 27, 2014 at 1:12 am |
  15. Doris

    Thank goodness Rainer doesn't waste space here in the U.S. with his bigoted views.

    ==============

    "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

    Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."

    –John Adams, from A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787-1788)

    May 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm |
  16. samsstones

    Helmut
    I have to agree with Sam. The world/Germany would be a far, far better place without you in it. You don't want to be messy so try the bottle of extra strength Tylenol and a liter of your favorite schnapps (peach I would bet) to wash them down. Bye now jesus wants you, probably just to send you to your hell, whatever.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:46 pm |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Couldn't we just get them to spark the gas chamber up for him?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
    • Doris

      I can just see the very manly servant Hilda, for whom Rainy can only have eyes, watching the page, ready to run and interrupt Rainy from his self-flagellation: "Fuehrer, da page hass changed! Shall I repeatz your post?"

      May 25, 2014 at 2:26 pm |
  17. tbrown17

    A person can get by on religion as long as they don't try to believe that God intervenes in everyday life on earth. It's all about the afterlife and the big hedge there's something there. It's all based on faith and not on any scientific proof, that's the nature of religion. – Deist.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm |
    • gruphy

      Funny enough psychology, psychiatry and other brain sciences agree a lot with the Bible.

      May 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm |
  18. Rainer Helmut Braendlein

    The debate about creationism versus atheism is thoroughly boring.

    Why?

    That debate simply misses the point. Creationism versus atheism is actually no issue at all. This debate doesn't really exist.

    It is not the point, if there is a God or not, but the issue is how we can live as faithul Christians in a thoroughly secular world.

    There are very little true believers in God today having the faith of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the Apostles. Most so-called Christians are just nominal Christians, and very many people are members of sects, cults and false churches. Strictly speaking, all that people belong to the secular world, and have nothing to do with the Lord, the eternal God who has made heaven and earth. They have never entered the Kingdom of God through the Rebirth.

    My workmates are secularized Catholics, devout or less devout Muslims, Jehova's Witnesses, Greek Orthodox, etc. I really have to struggle to come through there without denying my faith in Jesus. I want to practice unbiased love. My workmates certainly are not unbiased. Finally I will make the following experience I often made on this blog here: All my workmates will characterize me as the bigoted a-ss. I more and more understand what Jesus, the most loveable man ever lived on earth, had to endure. The religious dudes hate the true believers (the Jewish leaders hated Jesus). That is the real issue, a severe issue.

    It is really true what Jesus said: Everybody wanting to follow me has to endure rejection and suffering (to bear the cross of Jesus).

    Only people having endured rejection by the secularworld without denying Jesus Christ, will once get into heaven. When we endure rejection and suffering, we keep the faith in Jesus, and Jesus gives us the power to withstand.

    Be honest: It is not about, if there is a God or not, but you are simply too coward to accept the drawbacks which you had to face, if you would confess faith in Jesus Christ. Be aware that you will not get eternal reward beyond, if you were not ready to suffer here for the Lord's sake.

    Get the real thing!

    Jesus, the Son of God, wants YOU!

    "Am I right or am I right?"

    I am right.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:41 pm |
    • Akira

      If your fellow employees think of you as a bigoted ass, it is because this is how you portray yourself.
      You are there to do a job, not proselytize and condemn others for not adhering to your particular version of Christianity.
      You are also stealing time from your employer when you focus your attention from your job. This isn’t fair to your employer. After all:

      Mathew 22:21 [...]Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

      In this case, Caesar is your employer.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
    • Doris

      What are you a Coke ad now?

      Translation of RB's post:

      "I'm a pompous know-it-all bigot, in case you didn't get that message the first 4 times I posted this today on the same article."

      Example from yesterday on the Pope article: "The RCC has become a pi-sspot of heresies". Now being an atheist, I have many issues with the RCC. But the Rainman takes the cake when it comes to Christian know-it-all-ism. I do think on many occasion here on the Blog, Rainy has made little baby Jesus cry so to speak....

      May 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm |
    • whippstippler7

      At the risk of entering into an entirely pointless debate, Rainer, no, you are wrong. Especially when you say, "It is not the point, if there is a God or not, but the issue is how we can live as faithul Christians in a thoroughly secular world."

      That IS the primary point: Is there a god? You can't establish that there is a god. Any god. And, if you could, your next hurdle is to establish that god is the god of your little sect, as opposed to some other god. Which, of course, you can't do.

      So, believe what you want, but keep those beliefs out of politics, and laws, and education, and don't use your religious beliefs as a basis for hate.

      May 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm |
    • imakeitfun

      if your peers all collectively think you act as a bigot, you probably are. When you use your religion as reason to be a bigot, you become a sacrilegious jerk.

      May 25, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
    • kudlak

      guys
      I believe that point 2 of the article specifically addresses people like Rainer, so why are you bothering?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Again I must ask what your point is in posting this same thing over and over again on every page? What purpose do you think it serves?

      May 25, 2014 at 2:21 pm |
  19. 82nate

    Give me a break! This is what it's like for an Atheist in the bible belt: I'm an Atheist...

    May 25, 2014 at 1:37 pm |
  20. sloaneblackthorne

    It's not just Atheists, you know. Any non Christian faith–say, neoclassical Paganism, or Islam–is treated with the same disdain/disbelief. If you're not a Christian, you definitely stay in the closet.

    May 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.